Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Germany - Day 14: 2/13 (A Childhood Dream Suprisingly Realized)

Days Left to Departure: 10

Number of Orthodontic Rubber Bands I've Made Shannon Break This Week: 2

Today should prove to be somewhat stuffy and difficult for me to manage. This morning (look at this, almost all caught up, finally) we had class as usual and most students worked diligently on work (D.J.!!!) for the nearly the entire 90 minutes. We passed around a Burnt Hills yearbook that we are giving to the school principal here as a gift for his retirement as he has been very helpful during his tenure for the success of the P.E.A.C.E. Exchange program. After dealing with some additional teacher duties and failing miserably in my attempts to print out assignments that were e-mailed to me by Mrs. Gangemi, I stopped by the school cafeteria for a coffee.

This afternoon I have a busy agenda planned. At 12:30, we are getting a group picture done in front of the school of this year’s exchange participants. We are then taking a field trip to a Feuerwehr (firehouse) for the afternoon. After that I am off to Herr Fabricius’s house to prepare for a dinner whose function I don’t quite understand, but from what I have been able to gather, it will involve all sorts of important local politicians, school administrators, and teachers, who will be filibustering items that concern them in rapid fire German, and who are certain to ask me questions in German that I won’t understand. It is also probable that Frau Canavan and I will be split up, so I will be left to again fend for myself. I keep telling the students that this trip is about the challenge just as much as it is about the sights. Its time I put my money where my mouth is, it would appear.

As I so often have learned, I shouldn’t enter any situation with preconceived notions of what I think is going to transpire. After a great lunch from a Chinese place next to GSG (and some how it didn’t seem right to hear the Chinese checkout person speaking broken German), we headed off to the Duisburg Fire Department for a tour. One of the German students, Kharsten (sp?) is a Youth Volunteer Fireman and is hosting D.J., who has a similar designation with the Ballston Lake Fire Department. We received a tour of the facility, and even with Canavan’s translation, I had a hard time hearing with the exhaust system in the garage, so I spent most of my time listening to D.J. and Casey tell me their own (or their family’s) experiences with the greater Burnt Hills area fire departments.

All in all it was fairly interesting, but I was thinking that there were probably other sights that I would have rather seen. Things took a turn for the more interesting when students were allowed to try the fire hose, which is something that I had never seen happen in the U.S., even though the pressure was on minimum. Once we were back inside, students were allowed to climb through the trucks. I had a chance to sit in a couple and they looked like they would be really challenging to drive, although I’d love the chance. I found my perfect fire vehicle in a four axle, eight wheel, all-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle that even had an accompanying trailer. I was all over that puppy!

Then…something happened that I had not anticipated. One of my life goals was realized. When I was four or five, my kindergarten class visited the New Hartford Fire Department, in good ol’ New Hartford, NY. As soon as we saw the firemen come down the pole, everyone wanted to do it, me especially. Of course, we were told no. I never again had the opportunity to visit the station and I had always been bummed about never having come down and official fire department fire pole (although I have come down a few imitations – the diet coke of fire poles). At that point, Herr Fabricius came over to me and out of the blue said that the fireman giving the tour wanted to know if any of us, myself and Frau Canavan included, would want to come down the fire pole. It took all of eight seconds for a throng of students to be lined up. Within six or seven minutes, after waiting for 26 or so years, I was able to slide down a legit fire pole, button down shirt and all! After some group encouragement, Colleen even went for it. Way to go, Coll!!!

After the fire department I rode with Herr Fabricius back to his house and received the grand tour, enjoyed a cup of coffee, watched CNN in English to see some of Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee’s testimonies (both were smacked around pretty hard), and the BBC to see that my boy Obama picked up another few states in the primaries. At 6:45 we headed to a dinner that was to be attended by local politicians that recognized the P.E.A.C.E. exchange program at an Italian place called Pacino’s. Herr Fabricius stressed that I was to order whatever I liked. For some reason, the Mayor and the rest of the town government was picking up the tab. We had spent 25 minutes going over the menu at his house before I left so I could tell you exactly what everything was. I don’t know if he wanted me to look like I had “mad German ordering skillz”, or didn’t want me to slow down everyone else.

I will spare everyone the content of conversation from the meal, which was conducted in English at my end of the table for the first three hours, but it centered around the difference between German and American schools (and how New York State School Tax works), and how the local government and not a school board runs the local schools. This means that you could be denied employment at a school based on your political party. I was very grateful that we had a school board who, although elected, didn’t really have bi-partisan axes to grind, because when politics enters education, most often it is the students who lose the biggest.

During the dinner, speeches were made (in German) by many members of the local government, including the Mayor and GSG’s principal, Mr. Mielker (sp?), who is retiring this year. They all spoke glowingly of the program and of their hopes that it would continue for a long time to come. They also thanked German and American chaperones, host families, and school staffs, whose support and generosity make the program possible. I enjoyed the conversation and getting to meet new people very much and I chided myself for being so narrow minded leading up to it (reminding myself that ALL of us, even myself as a chaperone, must struggle to maintain an open mind). When conversation switched to German for the last 40 minutes or so, I struggled very hard to even understand a word. I kept hearing words like “student”, “international”, “cultural exchange”, and “teacher”, all in German, but I gave up when I thought I heard “firehouse” until I realized someone was talking about today’s adventure.

All in all it was a good day. Many experiences went in directions I would not have foretold, even as I started this entry after study session this morning. And I think that is a good thing.

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